This blog is one of two reflecting on the CIPFA conference.
Sitting in the airport waiting to go to my first Brexit wedding gave me the chance to reflect on the recent CIPFA Conference, which was framed around planning for Brexit Britain. My overwhelming feeling is one of disappointment: about how far we are (whether you are a ‘Remainer’ or a ‘Brexiteer’) from reaching any plan or deal for the future of the country. Discussion seems to have moved on little from this time last year, when the result of the referendum had been known for only a matter of weeks.
The recent election shocks, terror attacks and ongoing crises such as Grenfell only seemed to heighten the feeling that we are slowly heading towards the abyss. This seemed to be reflected in the very fact that the conference in fact turned out to be very little about “Planning for Brexit Britain”, and slowly but surely retreated to the more comfortable and well-known topics of social care integration and creating the finance leaders of the future.
And therein lies another great mystery: “the finance leaders of the future”. What does this really mean? I don’t think anyone would deny that the role played by finance leaders needs to change, and is changing. But is it changing fast enough or are we all just still talking about it? Every year, we talk about the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the fact that we need to be more commercial, more strategic, and add more value; but how is anyone going about this, and who has the time? More and more finance leaders are in the firing line and under pressure to deliver what look like impossible numbers whilst having to think about an ever-expanding host of issues and challenges such as trading companies and integration.
It’s difficult to see how finance leaders will have the time and space to stand back and take stock, to define and influence their role in these circumstances, and to fundamentally have a strong voice, let alone to even start to think about training and skills and the subject we all avoid – CPD. I doubt there are many accountants out there who don’t dread completing their end of year form declaring they have done the stipulated number of hours, and then pray that they are not selected to submit a portfolio of evidence.
Having said all this, I feel that there is still time for us to take action – to finally define what we want from our finance leaders of the future and to start to make some fundamental changes to the qualifications and the way we support finance professionals, both existing and students, to get the depth and breadth of experience they need. For instance, it has been great over the past few months to have two interns from the NGDP scheme working with us, and for them to see the other side of the coin and work in a private sector environment – an arrangement which has been extremely beneficial for both sides. I fear that if we don’t start to think and act differently soon, we will be back in Manchester in 10 years’ time, either having been made redundant by AI or still talking about the finance leaders of the future.